Five-star cleaning of Schloss Elmau
“Our new cleaning methods protect our staff, prevent damage to our interiors and improve our hygiene standard.”
Schloss Elmau in Bavaria is considered one of the best hotels in the world. It towers over the landscape at an altitude of 1000 m in the Bavarian Alps. This premiere hotel is not just elevated in terms of altitude and luxury – its cleanliness and hygiene standards are right up there too. The five-star superior resort changed three of its operational cleaning methods for wet rooms, carpets and floors to more progressive processes in 2018. An interview with Housekeeper Ines Sagolla about the cleaning challenges of a luxury hotel, elephants, and the perfect results of using a vacuum sweeper on carpets.
Ms Sagolla, what is it you do at Schloss Elmau?
My role is Assistant Executive for Housekeeping. I report to the Director of Housekeeping and am also Head of Housekeeping. I lead a team of 50 housekeepers, which handles the cleaning of the entire hotel. I am in charge of creating the room cleaning rotas and the rotas for cleaning the public areas of the resort. I also organise the floor checks for the maids and housekeepers, am responsible for spot checks and follow-up inspections, and manage the floral arrangements throughout the hotel.
What does Schloss Elmau offer its guests and what is the hotel’s credo?
Schloss Elmau is a luxury resort with two separate five-star superior hotels. It is located in a picturesque standalone position near the Zugspitze, and has received multiple awards as one of the top hotels in the world. While the Cultural Hideaway (refurbished castle) offers 115 rooms and suites with historical ambiance and timeless elegance, the Luxury Spa Retreat, which was constructed in 2015, offers 47 rooms and suites and conveys an air of pure modern luxury. Our guests come here to find piece, unwind and relax – be it with skiing in the Bavarian mountain world, an unsurpassed menu at our two-Michelin-Star restaurant, or our spa and oriental hammam. Our guests from around the world have come to appreciate our multifaceted cultural and sports activities, including concerts and readings, as well as our comprehensive yoga and fitness programme. Our younger guests love our renowned football camp with youth trainers of RB Leipzig and VfB Stuttgart, and our fun Edutainment programme.
There are elephants everywhere – from pillowcases to murals. What’s that all about?
The hotel owner, Dietmar Müller-Elmau, has travelled a lot. And during his trips to India, he kept seeing elephants. To him, they represent competence in judgement and a great capacity for memory: two important values to navigate through life in our modern world. The animal also embodies peace and quiet power, which is why it is represented throughout the resort’s interiors.
How important is environmental protection to your resort?
Schloss Elmau is located in a nature preserve. Living in partnership with nature is therefore one of our top priorities. We also insist that our partners demonstrate comprehensive efforts for the protection of the environment. The Wetrok approach of “as much as necessary, as little as possible” fits right into our world view, as it doesn’t just stop at the products – each one of the cleaning methods is based on that principle. Thoughtful, economical applications are more important to us than an eco-label on the packaging.
What are your specific measures to help protect the environment?
Schloss Elmau is investing in a sustainable future already today: we use and produce green energy with the help of wood chips, biomass, water, wind or the sun. Since 2007, we have been heating the entire hotel complex with 80% wood chips made from local wood waste, and by the end of 2022, we will commission a second, state-of-the-art heating plant with pellets to achieve 100% green heating. We are currently in the process of removing all disposable plastic from our resort.
What are the types of dirt you come across at the hotel?
Oh, where do I start (she laughs). Our resort is in the middle of a busy skiing and hiking region. In winter, our guests come in with snow boots, and the in summer, with hiking boots. Finding leaves, snow and mud in the lobby is far from a rare occurrence – and needs taking care of immediately. In the restaurant, we often have to use our stain remover kit – for example, if a guest spills coffee on the carpet. And then there is the big issue of dust – mainly, on all the decorative objects and the wooden shelves in the guest rooms. In our wellness area, we have to deal with particularly stubborn types of dirt: at the hammam, we work with soapy foam, which leaves a residue layer on the flooring. We need to make sure that nobody slips and falls, so we use either the scrubber-dryer or the single-brush machine to ensure safety. Wetrok Reshine has turned out to be the perfect product for removing soap residues. As you can tell: my team and I always have plenty to do.
What are the differences between cleaning a luxury hotel and traditional facility cleaning?
Facility cleaning is all about efficiency. For us here, there are two other aspects we focus on specifically: cleaning results and value retention. As a five-star superior hotel, we offer our guests a level of cleanliness and hygiene beyond compare. And for us to guarantee that at all times, we need well thought-out workflows, state-of-the-art cleaning methods and strict quality control. We want to make our guests feel completely comfortable and well cared for – and that is why we don’t mind taking a little more time than usual when cleaning their rooms. Besides, the resort was built with many valuable materials – and these need proper care and maintenance as well. Our motto in housekeeping: quality and care trumps efficiency. But (she winks), of course, we don’t ever want to be without our time-saving Wetrok cleaning methods again!
Which specific cleaning challenges are you mainly faced with?
As I said before, maintaining the value of our individually selected interiors and decorative objects is our greatest challenge. There are marble pillars, lamps with gold leaf, brass skirting along the lower part of the walls, expensive carpets – you can imagine how much care the cleaning of such materials requires. That applies both to the cleaning products we use and the machines we operate. Speaking of machinery: our resort is an oasis of peace and quiet. We only use cleaning machines and vacuum cleaners that are extremely quiet to avoid disturbing our guests.
Floor cleaning in the restaurant area poses ever new challenges: the floor alternates between Solnhof natural stone tiles and parquet elements directly adjacent to each other – a critical transition in terms of cleaning that requires attention, care and precise work.
Our resort also offers something you don’t find elsewhere in the hospitality sector: we adjust our cleaning schedule to our guests – not vice versa. One guest may want to leave at 10 am, while another might not check out until 6 pm. Both of these guests would not appreciate us working around their feet with our cleaning machines, while they might be relaxing at the spa. What’s needed here is a very tight timetable for everything and a lot of tact. Our cleaning personnel tends to be very visible while they clean rooms during the day. In rest and relaxation areas, on the other hand, they try to blend into the background as much as possible.
Schloss Elmau hosted the G7 Summit of 2015 and 2022. Who were some of the famous people and celebrities staying at your resort?
Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Joe Biden, Olaf Scholz and many other leaders from politics and industry.
Did you have to adapt your cleaning schedules for these events?
No. We have always offered our guests the absolute highest levels of cleanliness and hygiene. That is the guiding principle we work by – no matter who our guests may be.
Does your cleaning staff ever get direct feedback from your guests?
Oh sure! And we are always happy to receive it! Since some guests may be in the room while housekeeping is being done, they sometimes start a conversation with the staff. Many guests are pleasantly surprised at how thoroughly we carry out our daily cleaning in the rooms. We clean every corner daily, dust off every cable, and vacuum under the bed.
Why did you switch to Wetrok products and methods in 2018?
We had pinpointed three areas that needed improvement: firstly, we wanted to improve the work environment for our personnel; secondly, we needed to ensure less damage to our materials in the resort; and thirdly, we were looking to switch some of our floor cleaning from manual to machine cleaning. Wetrok gave us excellent support. They didn’t just provide new cleaning products and machines – they also revolutionised our existing cleaning processes by switching us over to state-of-the-art cleaning methods.
What areas are you now cleaning with machines instead?
All traffic areas – for example, the lobby, the corridors, and the spa area. Our use of the Discomatic Mambo scrubber-dryer and the Monomatic single-brush machine saves us a lot of time and ensures an even better cleaning result. Our natural stone floors have tiny ripples and gaps, which are very hard to clean manually. The new machines ensure that these tight gaps are cleaned thoroughly and in record time.
What are your expectations regarding cleaning machines for the hotel?
They must offer excellent cleaning results, can’t be too noisy, and they have to fit inside the elevator. We really value the Wetrok machines, because they offer a good working width, but are still really agile and easy to manoeuvre.
The corridors on the floors with the guest rooms are laid out with luxurious red carpet – how do you clean those?
We use our Speedmatic Twister vacuum sweeper. We simply insert the carpet brushes and go up and down the corridor just once, and the carpet is spotlessly clean.
Why did you choose that particular type of carpet cleaning?
The great working width of the vacuum sweeper speeds up the cleaning process enormously – and the carpets are spotlessly clean afterwards. The machine is very agile in its handling, is emissions-free (battery-powered) and doesn’t make any more noise than a normal dry vacuum cleaner.
Why don’t you just use a dry vacuum cleaner for the carpets then?
That’s what we did in the past – but the job took a lot longer and we weren’t completely happy with the results. The fibres of the red short-fibre carpets were flattened slightly by the vacuum cleaner, which created an uneven line pattern with each pass of the machine. The roller of the vacuum sweeper, on the other hand, lifts the fibres right back up as it passes, giving the carpet a uniform, well-maintained look.
And what do you do with floor areas that need manual cleaning?
We use the WetBox system – basically a box filled with pre-wetted mops.
How does the WetBox system work?
We fill plastic boxes (WetBox) with mops and pour the cleaning solution over them. Then the boxes are loaded onto the cleaning cart. We prepare all the mops we will need for the day at 6 am – at our resort, that is no less than 300 mops.
Why did you switch over to the cleaning method with pre-wetted mops?
Our reasons were quality, efficiency and hygiene. Pre-wetting the mops guarantees the right dosage of cleaning products at all times, which means consistently high cleaning standards for every room. The main advantage: the mops are never wet. They are just damp. Damp mopping increases the cleaning performance and allows us to use these mops on our most sensitive wood floors – it would be unthinkable to use wet mops on those! We really like how easy the preparation is. It saves us a lot of time and some work steps as well. Another plus for us: improved hygiene. We have a rule: one mop per room. This prevents cross-contamination. And with the WetBox, we always have the exact number of mops we need.
Karolina Kowalcyk, Head of Housekeeping at the luxury spa retreat
What are your mops made of?
We use microfibre mops for the natural stone tiles in sanitary spaces and cotton mops for the real wood flooring in public areas, because the microfibre products are not suitable for use on oiled wood floors.
Pre-wetted mops vs. buckets
Five advantages of the WetBox method
- highest level of hygiene (one mop per room)
- higher cleaning performance with damp (not wet) use
- time-saving preparation
- individual work steps are eliminated (e.g. no more wringing of individual mops)
- most efficient method aside from wet mopping
You also switched to a new method for your surface and sanitary cleaning. Why did you switch from using a spray bottle to cleaning with foam?
In a service company like ours, employees are the most important resource. That is why we offer our personnel benefits, such as living quarters close-by. Most importantly, however, we can offer them a work environment that is as safe and pleasant as possible. That is why we replaced the spray bottle with foam. Our cleaning crew used to clean the sanitary facilities and surfaces with a spray bottle. In the shower cells of the guest bathrooms in particular, a lot of spraying was going on, which has resulted in respiratory problems and coughing for some of these colleagues. That problem has been eliminated since we have been using foam: there are no more spray particles in the air – no aerosols, no health issues.
Are there any other reasons for the change?
Yes – we can now prevent damage to the high-quality materials in the building. That is why have not only switched our cleaning method from spray to foam, but have also changed the sanitary cleaners we use. We now work with Caledor and Calexan forte by Wetrok. The previously used cleaning products often left acid spots behind on the Solnhof natural stone tiles of our guest bathrooms – that doesn’t happen with the much milder, yet highly effective Wetrok cleaners. We also have very hard water here at the resort, but Caledor manages to get rid of all limestone residue on our natural stone appliances, without corroding the fittings. We also used to have issues with fittings that were destroyed internally, because the spray was directed into the actual fittings, which severely compromised them. The foam cleaning method has resolved this issue completely. The foam does not penetrate the fittings and unfolds its cleaning effect where it should: on the outside.
Are there any other advantages of using foam instead of the spray or bucket method?
Oh yes! We have noticed a significant reduction of the chemicals we use in the foam bottle, compared with the spray. That is because you don’t have to spray one spot several times. And we think it is great that we can help reduce the chemical load on the environment that way as well.
How do you use the foam method?
The maids fill the foam bottle with water up to the first marker, and then add the cleaning product up to the second marker. They then squeeze the bottle to create the cleaning foam. The resulting foamed cleaning solution is applied to a microfibre cloth. The right dosing is entirely self-explanatory, thanks to the two markers on the bottle – really a great advantage for us, because quite a few of our maids are not native German speakers. That way, we can prevent mistakes before they happen.
How did your maids react to the switch in cleaning methods?
At first, they were all a bit sceptical. After all, they had always used the traditional spray bottle before. Bu it only took a little while for everyone to get used to it, and then everyone liked the foam. The maids noticed how much time they saved and that there was a distinctive improvement in the air quality while they were working. By now, not one of them would swap their foam bottle for a spray again.
How about the cleaning results with foam. Are they better, worse or the same as with spray?
Better! Foam cleaning leaves our surfaces in public areas and in our guest bathrooms significantly cleaner.
Foam vs. Spray:
Five advantages of the foam cleaning method
- no fumes, no irritation of the airways
- no repeated spraying of the same area, no wasteful use of chemicals
- no damage to fittings (as unlike the spray solution, the foam does not penetrate)
- easier cleaning of fingerprints, etc. (liquid foam, not wet spray)
- greater cleaning performance per hour (more surface area in less time)
Why did you choose Wetrok as the main supplier of your cleaning products?
Because Wetrok combines superior Swiss product quality with support and service elements that we appreciate very much. Support is always there for us if we ever need help removing a new type of stain. Any spare parts we might need for any of the machines are just a phone call away. To us, Wetrok is much more than a product supplier: our partnership has allowed us to replace some of our traditional cleaning methods with more eco-friendly, time-saving methods – resulting in more efficiency for our staff and better hygiene for our guests.